That’s what a greenroom was, originally, a room near the stage in a theater, the walls and, sometimes, the furniture of which were painted or covered with green cloth.
Some say that color was selected for the relief of the eyes of the actors, who rested in that room between appearances on stage, from the glare of the footlights.
But it is more likely that the first assembly room for artists when dressed just chanced to be painted green.
Such is also the opinion of Sir St. Vincent Troubridge, for whom the theater has long been of special interest and study, and to whom I am indebted for the further statements.
That first assembly room was in the Dorset Garden theater, mentioned in Thomas Shadwell’s A True Widow, produced in that theater in 1678.
Four years later, 1682, from economic causes, the Dorset Garden and Drury Lane companies were amalgamated at the latter theater.
Then at some time within the next eighteen years a room similar to that at Dorset Garden and now called a greenroom made its appearance at Drury Lane.
Definite reason for the choice of name is not known, but Sir St. Vincent surmises that “one half of the amalgamated company said so often and naggingly ‘I wish we had a retiring-room here like the greenroom at Dorset Garden,’ that the management had to provide one at Drury Lane, and it was in consequence called the greenroom generically for the first time.”
But, as Sir St. Vincent adds, any notion that the actors were affected by eyestrain from footlights at that period can be dismissed.
It was the spectators, especially those in the galleries, who suffered from the overhead chandeliers above both stage and auditorium. The diarist Samuel Pepys records in 1669, “the trouble of my eyes with the light of the candles did almost kill me.”
Not until the next century, about 1758, were footlights introduced.